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LA Landmarks: The Hollywood Sign

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So many times those of us who live in LA play host to out-of-town visitors who want to see all the sights that our amazing city has to offer. It's pretty routine to get asked if and how one can get up to the iconic Hollywood Sign to see it up close, and, sadly, it must be admitted that the sign is off-limits to regular folk. This means that looky-loos, locals, and pranksters who want to "change" the sign are out of luck (which means Brandon, Brenda, Kelly et al would probably not have been able to drape "W Bev Hi 93" over the sign after all).

Of course, the best view is the intended one--from in the skies or the streets below. Thanks to the Hollywood Sign Trust, the nine letters on the hill known around the world are preserved and tended to, so that we can continue to enjoy it, ignore it, or marvel over its role in LA history.

The history of the sign is fascinating and perfect fodder for urban myths and legends. How much do you know about the sign? Here's some info about the sign that might make you a better tour guide when you're showing off our town.

  • The Hollywood sign was built in 1923, and was the brainchild of the Hollywoodland Real Estate Group to promote land sales in the burgeoning area. The sign of course, used to read H-O-L-L-Y-W-O-O-D-L-A-N-D--the original name of the area.
  • The letters of the sign were originally 50 feet tall and 30 feet wide. It was constructed out of telephone poles, tin, and scaffolding.
  • A giant spotlight was also erected on the hill near the sign to catch people's eyes and get them to see the sign. (It's hard to imagine not seeing it these days!)
  • The sign was lit up in the 20s and 30s by lightbulbs inserted in the letters. The sign stopped being lit in 1939. There was a man who lived in a house behind the letter "L" whose job it was to replace the lightbulbs that burned out. Some of the original lightbulbs have been found strewn on the hillside.
  • In September of 1932, frustrated starlet-hopeful Peg Entwhistle climbed to the top of the letter H and jumped to her death. Hers is the only sign-related suicide in its history.
  • Wind sheer, weather, and method of construction meant that the original sign took a beating over the years. Often pieces would fall off the sign and it fell easily into disrepair. Because of rationing and shortages suffered stateside during WWII, materials to repair the sign were scarce.
  • The "L-A-N-D" portion of the sign was removed in 1949, when the Chamber of Commerce took over the care of the sign.
  • The sign is Los Angeles Cultural-Historical Monument #111, named so in 1973.
  • The sign was completely overhauled in 1978. Pacific Outdoor Advertising won the bid for the renovation, and the old sign was removed starting on August 8th, 1978, and rebuilt over the following months. College student Mari Kornhauser documented the rebuild as part of a school project on Super 8 film. The new sign, made of corrugated metal on steel poles driven into the hillside in the exact same spot as the old sign, was completed on October 30th, 1978. The new sign is 5 feet shorter than the original, to help it maintain stability against wind and other elements.
  • Funding for the new sign came from the Hollywood Sign Trust, which was established for the occasion. Celebrities pledged sponsorship of individual letters--rocker Alice Cooper "bought" one of the Os.
  • Pranks in the 80s saw the letters covered to read CAL TECH as well as an attempt to spell out a struggling band's name (it read: "Raffeysod").
  • The sign is equipped with infrared cameras, loudspeakers, and motion sensors, all relaying 24 hour monitoring of the sign to security forces. Even when authorized persons are up there the LAPD will send a helicopter out to make sure the right people are on the property. People are not permitted on the hill by the sign--even though it's park of Griffith Park--because it is a fire hazard, the hillside is extremely dangerous and rocky terrain, and so that the sign is not damaged. Part of its security system is attributed to the Trust's recent partnership with the Department of Homeland Security.
  • The sign was fully repainted in 1995 and 2005, and gets periodical spot touch-ups. Ladders built in behind the letters give painters the access to do their work.
  • Debris, like the lightbulbs, as well as the wooden poles that probably held the "LAND" letters, and pieces of tin, still litter the hillside below the sign.
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Want to see the sign? The trust recommends four viewing locations--Hollywood & Highland, Beachwood Canyon, Franklin & Gower, and Lake Hollywood--and have directions available on their site. Want to see it RIGHT NOW? They have a 24 hour webcam you can take a look at. Oh, and yes--I watched Huell Howser's show California's Gold, which inspired this post (LAist loves Huell Howser!). Here's a video update that tags the episode, featuring Howser talking about the new moving pictures that have been found from the building of the sign in 1923. (Bummer, the vid clip doesn't include the actually footage, but you can get your daily dose of HH.)

Catch a rebroadcast of the Hollywood Sign episode (Huell sits on the letter L!) tomorrow at 7 p.m. on PBS.

Photo by Tom Andrews via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr